At the time of Elite+ going to press, the US presidential election day is still approaching, and most of the world believes the world will be a better place if Hillary Clinton wins. Who in their right mind would embrace Donald Trump – labelled as clown, liar, bigot, racist, xenophobe, crook, sexual predator and even neo-Nazi by millions who believe Trump is unfit to lead the nation? Not to mention the fact his personal scandals have been exposed on a regular basis in the media.
No wonder Clinton’s fans are confident that Americans will vote her into power in a landslide victory on November 8: if you have a heart as well as a brain, if you stand for human rights and justice for all, you must vote for Clinton. The New York Times endorsed Clinton and predicts she has more than an 80 per cent chance of winning. And over 30 former Republican members of Congress have announced opposition to Trump, meaning that even his own political party has overtly rejected him. He is a black sheep even in the eyes of his own clan.
And yet things are not always what they seem. As seen throughout history, reason does not always prevail when people fear for their security and well-being. Today we have the phenomenon of the Trump movement, with Trump support gaining in numbers across the nation, most of them white working class. And this phenomenon frightens many Americans and foreigners alike.
When we witness the pro-Trump movement,we also see its counterpart: the Trump protesters. The two sides turn on one another with equal levels of hostility and self-righteousness.
Sometimes armies of the candidates’ supporters have confrontations at Trumps rallies in various states. Tensions and arguments can escalate into physical fights, culminating in arrests. Some wonder whether the United States of America should have been renamed the Divided States of America for the duration of the presidential race.
Here is a question that needs an honest answer. Does the pro-Trump movement, as accused by the left, merely comprise waves of unhinged, unintellectual, white supremacist American blue-collar workers who target every non-white? Trump supporters are ridiculed as racist, labelled as if having already committed a crime of discrimination. Nevertheless, if those labels are not so simple, can there be a better explanation for the phenomenon of Trump’s popularity?
One of the major problems that Americans, the working class in particular, now face is the economic impact of so-called free-trade agreements. The government, Democrats and Republicans alike, share a belief that international free markets and free trade, such as provided by the North American Free Trade Agreement, bring economic growth. There may be benefits for producers and consumers, as NAFTA eliminates trade barriers such as taxes and tariffs and thus helps lower prices, creating a win-win situation for both sides. For the rest who call themselves grassroots Americans, however, mainly those with low economic means, free trade makes their jobs less secure and takes bread and butter from their tables, leaving them and their families with an uncertain future.
Until the arrival of the free trade deals, “offshore” and “outsource” were foreign concepts. Now these words are commonly heard from those wondering how long they can stay in their jobs. Companies going “offshore” are relocated to a less developed country, such as Mexico, Vietnam, Myanmar or even Thailand, in order to take advantage of lower production costs and cheaper labour, leaving many jobless at home. On the other hand, if the same company “outsources” new employees from outside the US, local workers face the same fate as US companies profit at the expense of their employees’ livelihood.
In other words, while free trade deals have rewarded the modern upper class, they have robbed average Americans of their place in the job market. Their money comes solely from monthly wages, not the enormous business profits that the business-owning class enjoys. Those most hurt are the struggling white working class who lose jobs to legal or undocumented immigrants.
While most politicians from both parties keep silent on this consequence of free trade, Hillary Clinton included (her spouse, President Bill Clinton, signed NAFTA into law in 1993), Donald Trump stands aloof. As a real estate tycoon he himself is a member of America’s top 1 per cent. His wealth enables him to act independently of the corporate leaders and top politicians who have shaped the current economy.
There is no doubt that what draws a big tide of people to Trump is his unprecedented campaign style. He vows to solve this problem that most of the elite choose to close their eyes to because the elite are, as Trump accuses, part of the corrupted system, a system that needs to be corrected in order to benefit all Americans.
The most controversial aspect of Trump’s campaign is his proposed restrictions on Muslim refugees and illegal immigrants. Early in his candidacy he called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the US, for reasons of national security from terrorist attacks. Trump openly announces that he “distrusts” Muslims for poorly assimilating into Western democratic society compared to other immigrants, and because some become extremists using violent methods such as suicide bombs when confronting disagreements and conflict. The resulting rise of anti-Muslim sentiment, or “Islamophobia”, allows opponents and media to criticize Trump for exploiting people’s fears and anxieties for politicalgain. He is blamed for fuelling discrimination and religious and racial divisions among Americans, whereas Clinton calls for religious diversity and racial tolerance and reaps the public approval of this calculated strategy.
What has really made Trump the “talk of the country” is perhaps his campaign to close the door to all illegal migrants (or “undocumented immigrants”). Trump has a big plan to build a wall along the 2,000-mile (3,200km) US-Mexico border to stop the influx of undocumented Mexicans. Not only will he stop them from entering, Trump also plans to deport millions of undocumented immigrants already living in the country. Not only do they “steal” jobs from Americans in exchange for cheap wages, American tax money is used to cover their medical aid and other benefits. Trump claims the plan will also reduce the serious problem of illicit drug trafficking between the nations.
Trump’s most aggressive campaigns have later softened following criticism from human rights advocates. Nevertheless Trump declares he will stand his ground on behalf of Americans pursuing their right to happiness and secure jobs like people in other developed nations.
Trump’s supporters argue that compared to Clinton, the media favourite, Trump is the victim, painted as a villain due to a hidden media agenda. Who owns the mainstream media networks in America, if not the top business corporations and Wall Street billionaires? Those plutocrats control the corrupted government which in turn runs the country in favour of the filthy rich. To hinder Trump’s rising power he must be tarnished with scandal and derogatory labels. As his defenders point out, “if you vote for Trump you are no better than a racist” has become the message the mass media has delivered in newspaper pages and TV broadcasts, with some success. According to recent polls, six out of 10 Americans have an unfavourable view of Trump.
The old saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder still holds true. No matter when, no matter where, a villain in one person’s eye can be glorified as a hero in another’s.